Two and a half years after becoming the first probe to study Pluto up close, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is gaining more fame for possessing the solar system's farthest-out camera in operation. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute said, "New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched".
NASA has released a record-breaking photograph taken by the New Horizons spacecraft when it was 3.79 billion miles away from the Earth.
The photos taken far into space are a part of the New Horizons spacecraft mission, the fifth spacecraft to go beyond the outer planets.
New Horizons flew past Pluto in July 2015, taking pictures which revealed an even more diverse landscape than scientists had previously imagined. The spacecraft was at a distance of 6.12 billion kilometers (3.79 billion miles) when it captured the images.
Shots of these two icy objects were captured by NASA's New Horizons space probe. In February 1990, Voyager 1 was exiting our solar system when it snapped the iconic "Pale Blue Dot" photo - a picture of Earth from over 6.06 billion kilometers away.
These December 2017 false-colour images of Kupier-Edgeworth Belt objects 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 are, for now, the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft.
New Horizons, in contrast, is just getting started.
The New Horizons spacecraft is said to be in good condition and is now hibernating, with mission control planning to awaken it again on June 4 in preparation for a flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 in mid-2019. Specifically, New Horizons is targeting 2014 MU69, a mysterious object (or pair of two objects) which Alan Stern, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has called "provocative" and a "scientific bonanza". The photos released Thursday break the record of the "Pale Blue Dot" photo. In the meantime, we'll always have 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.
The Kuiper belt is a vast expanse of rocks, ice clumps, comets and dwarf planets beyond Neptune.
For now, the Hubble telescope, which orbits Earth, can image most Kuiper belt objects in greater detail than New Horizon's eight-inch telescope, Porter said.
Most of the time, New Horizons is sleeping - hibernating, to save energy.
The Kuiper belt object flyby is "not almost as flashy as Pluto", Porter said, but "it's a really unique observation".